Search Engine Marketing in Japan — SEM Localization Tips for Foreign Brands

Posted By Jim Kersey

Localization is a crucial part of making sure your marketing works in Japan. From paid search campaigns on Google to SEO-focused blog content aimed at ranking for organic keywords, you won’t get the results you want here without a comprehensive localization strategy.

We explore our top localization tips for foreign brands engaged in search engine marketing (SEM) in Japan.

Table of Contents

  • Why Is Localization So Important to Japanese SEM?
  • Localize Your Keywords and Ads Properly
  • Adapt Your Landing Pages for the Local Audience
  • Build An Effective Localization Team

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Why Is Localization So Important to Japanese SEM?

Localization is the process of adapting your content for a new market, language or culture. This can include copy, design, the layouts of your ads and even your brand. When done right, effective localization will recreate the emotional and persuasive impact of this content for new audiences.

Sometimes this only requires small changes and tweaks (e.g. a change of photo that features a local model instead of a Western one), while at other times it involves a significant change to core themes and concepts.
Localization can use several techniques to adapt the content’s full meaning for a new context. On the other hand, translation merely deals with language and how text is changed from source-language text to target-language text. While translations are great (and even necessary) in many branding and marketing contexts, this is often not enough to have the full intended impact on your audience when trying to drive performance with your sem in Japan.

We believe the best localized content is typically that which has been created from scratch to meet the same requirements of the original content. Similarly, poorly localized content is that which has received a completely accurate technical translation, but doesn’t actually make sense to a local reader (this happens more than you might think!)

Content that Needs to be Localized for Japan

Each medium has its own set of requirements when it comes to localization.

  • Website copy
  • Search ad copy
  • Articles and other written content (FAQs, info pages)
  • Product pages
  • Design layouts for websites and digital branding
  • Video content
  • Audio
  • Animations
  • Infographics and data visualizations

Japanese Website Localization – Do I Need to Reinvent My Brand?

1. Localize Your Keywords and Ads Properly

Japanese team working on keywords for Japan sem

Keywords are a vital part of your SEM strategy for Japan, so making sure they are fully localized is crucial. To do this, avoid simply asking a translator to convert your English keyword list into a Japanese keyword list. This can create several problems and, if nothing else, cause you to miss out on key opportunities to capture high-value traffic through Google or Yahoo! ads.

HB Pro Tip: The same word can have a different meaning in different languages and cultural contexts. Even if you’re able to translate your list of keywords effectively with the help of a Japanese speaker, this doesn’t mean they have the same meaning and relevance in your new market.

Steps to Developing a Strong Japanese Keyword List

  • Brainstorm keywords from scratch with the help of Japanese native speakers rather than just translating your existing keyword list.
  • Bring in certain translated keywords from your rigingal list, but don’t rely on them too much and always make sure you check the “real” meaning in the local language.
  • Add geographic terms if these apply to your strategy, such as city names like Tokyo.
  • Integrate colloquial terms used such as slang Japanese terms and phrases used by younger audiences or even more formal or “dated” words commonly only used by older groups..
  • Check whether any of your products or service names have nicknames in Japanese.
  • Have a look at what your Japanese competitors are doing. Trawling their site for keywords may reveal some highly important terms you may have never encountered by yourself.
  • Review the search intent of your keyword list before finalizing it — when looking at results in Google or Yahoo! you’ll able to discover the function of your keywords and what role they play in a customer’s purchasing journey.

Japanese-English Loan Words

The Japanese language also includes many English-based expressions, often called loan words. However, although they might have the same spelling, the meanings can differ considerably, so always check with local speakers what the meaning of a phrase or keyword is in real terms.

Creating Localized Ads for SEM in Japan

When simply translating search ads into Japanese from English, the translator faces the challenge of the content getting naturally lengthier than the original text. If following this method, check the length of keywords, description lines, headlines and consider that the English keywords you’re using may not fit the new character allocation.

Alternatively, we suggest taking your new batch of keywords and creating brand new ad content that is optimized for a platform’s requirements. This applies to Google-based ads as well as PPC social media ads on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

Learn More About Search Advertising in Japan

2. Adapt Your Landing Pages for the Local Audience

Millennial consuming content from Japan SEM on Tokyo train

It’s great if your landing pages have appeal in multiple markets, as well as offer good brand consistency when you’re trying to build global brand awareness. However, you also risk your content being too “generic” — making sense in multiple languages and cultures but not having much impact on engagement and conversions.

What might seem like a clean and modern design to your eyes, may appear more sparse and vacant to a Japanese browser landing on your pages. Many local shoppers prefer a higher level of product detail and technical information before they commit to a brand or product — and leaving these elements out can hurt your performance.

By developing content that’s 100% localized for the Japanese audience, which includes the right emotional triggers and familiar themes that resonate with them, your conversion rates are going to do much better.

Again, building your content from the ground up is typically the best approach, however, if this isn’t possible, do your best to consider how your existing framework can be adapted to meet the expectations and preferences of the local audience.

Learn More About Japanese Web Design

Factor Demographic Preferences into Japanese SEM

A mistake would be to assume that all Japanese consumers have similar preferences when it comes to online content and ads. Many Japanese people and also those from outside the country often place importance on the fact that Japan is a homogeneous society, with a strong sense of group and national identity as well as little or no ethnic or racial diversity. However, important differences do exist here, as in all societies.

For instance, younger Japanese people are much more exposed to global trends and Western design influences, while older Japanese consumers may have a preference for more traditional user experiences — favoring greater levels of detail, written text and literal visual depictions of products.

3. Build An Effective Localization Team

Millennial consuming content from Japan SEM on Tokyo train

To successfully localize your website and ads, your team must have a good understanding of the local culture as well as the specific groups you want to target. At the very least, this requires a good amount of collaboration between your English and Japanese speaking teams.

Ideally, your content will be planned and designed with consideration of its impact in the Japanese market from the very start, rather than produced initially in your home market to be later adapted by individuals in Japan. It’s so important that the core themes, concepts, and ideas that are at the heart of your SEM activities in Japan are crafted by people who understand the local market well.

However, if you are outsourcing this side of things to a partner in Japan (which is sometimes the only feasible thing for you to do when entering the market), we advise you to put together comprehensive briefs, scripts, or branding documents that give your Japanese creatives everything they need to tackle the localization of your content in the right way.

The more information your localization team has, the better they’ll be able to create a version of your ads, landing page or website that will actually resonate with your new target audience.

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